TA Survey: Customers on Foot Bring Big Business to East Village Retailers

Among East Village shoppers, 95 percent arrive on foot, by bike or by transit. Image: Transportation Alternatives

On the heels of launching New York’s first “Bike Friendly Business District” in the East Village and Lower East Side, Transportation Alternatives has released a new study [PDF] showing that people who walk, bike and take transit to the East Village are local retailers’ best customers.

In a random survey of 420 East Village pedestrians, 95 percent of respondents said that they usually walk, bike or take transit to the neighborhood, with only 5 percent using a taxi or private automobile. TA asked respondents how often they visit the area and how much they usually spend per visit, using the replies to calculate how much each person typically spends per week in the area. The interesting patterns emerge when you segment that information by how the respondents got to the neighborhood. It shows that bicyclists and pedestrians are bigger spenders than those who arrive by taxi and car.

That’s because the people who come to the area most often typically arrive by bike or on foot. Nearly two-thirds of pedestrians and bicyclists – but only 44 percent of drivers – visited the area five or more times per week. Although the subway is the most popular way to get to the East Village, only a third of subway riders visited the area five or more times each week, reducing each rider’s spending impact at retailers.

TA staff and volunteers conducted the surveys during the morning, afternoon and evening on weekdays and weekends in July. Nearly three-quarters of respondents were Manhattan residents, with more than half coming from East Village zip codes. “Respondents skewed younger and male,” said TA, with 53 percent under age 35.

Because they visit the area more often, cyclists and pedestrians spend more per capita at East Village stores than people who arrive via other modes. Image: Transportation Alternatives

The study also found that 67 percent of women, and 56 percent of men, said that protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues have made them more likely to bike in the neighborhood. However, when asked to name the biggest barrier to riding a bike in the neighborhood, 42 percent cited a lack of enforcement against dangerous driving.

TA’s study replicates a report by NYU undergraduate students in 2010, before the bike and bus lanes were installed. TA’s 2012 study shows only 5 percent of shoppers arriving by car or taxi; in 2010, the number was 12 percent.

The Bike Friendly Business District draws inspiration from Long Beach, California, which already has six participating districts. In addition to discounts for customers arriving by bike, shared cargo bikes are available for businesses to make deliveries of large goods.

The East Village studies join a growing body of literature showing that although customers who drive spend more per visit, people who shop by foot, bike or transit visit more often and end up spending more money in stores.

Studies in Toronto show that fewer customers drive to shop than retailers think, while in Portland, businesses themselves have cited the benefits of on-street bike parking.

In 2006, Bruce Schaller, now a deputy commissioner at NYC DOT, conducted a study for Transportation Alternatives finding that shoppers on crowded Prince Street in Soho said they’d be more likely to visit if the street had more pedestrian space. Only nine percent of people on Prince Street arrived by car.

  • Anonymous

    A bike corral fits like 12 bikes max – but say one runs at half capacity.  If I were a business owner in the East Village I’d be lobbying awful hard to have one installed, and replace one car driving customer per uint time with six cyclists.  The math is very simple. 

  • Ben Kintisch

    When I was signing up Bike Friendly Businesses in Bed-Stuy, most owners and managers said that most of their customers were coming in on foot or on bike. Nearly everyone was eager to get the city’s free bike parking installed, because they wanted a place for customers to park their bikes.

  • Hugh Taylor

    The math for bike corral’s isn’t simple for store owners if the one parking spot has their car parked in it. 

  • Joe R.

    I’m frankly amazed at the number for bikes. I would have thought it would be in the low single digits. This just goes to show how much bike transportation is catching on.

  • Seattle-ite

    I’m a huge advocate of non-car travel, but this study seems a bit fishy.  Are pedestrians and bikers the “best customers?”  Depends how you define “best.”  According to the study, it sounds like each individual person on foot or bike doesn’t spend all that much per outing (seems to imply less than the average car driver), but when you multiply it by their frequency of travel, it becomes a big number.  But if it’s total $$$ that we’re interested in, then why not build up huge amounts of car-oriented infrastructure to attract more car-driving big spenders in?  So I’m not sure what conclusions can really be drawn from the study, other than: lots of people walk/bike/sub to the area.

    Also the study notes that “Car drivers, bus riders, Select Bus Service riders and taxi users were not sampled in large enough quantities to be statistically significant.”  Really seems like the study was just done to justify a preconceived notion.  I absolutely think walking/biking/taking the subway is healthy, fun, and sustainable, but does it make people better customers?  Answer: Not inherently. Just if the infrastructure favors it.

  • Carmacarma

    while i dont argue that most will arrive not by car. this survey is completely biasedand flawed if you consider the sample was 100% pedestrians

    its like holding a poll with 100% democrats on whether they will vote for romney and claiming that 70% will likely vote for obama

  • Anonymous

    @d8d46f16f380afef59ca318522397233:disqus : with the exception of drive-throughs, which I don’t think exist in this neighborhood, 100% of the customers to ANY business are pedestrians at the moment when they actually go into the shop/restaurant/office. If your goal is to sample the people who do visit these businesses, interviewing 100% pedestrians is perfectly representative.

  • Anonymous

    @qrt145:disqus Aren’t you kind of amazed you even had to write that? I am . . . 

  • Hi~ Thank you for your mention of Long Beach. Here’s a video about the Long Beach BFBD pilot program (which included four districts): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEYlfd-xGGs. It includes program elements, photos, and interviews with biz owners.

    Here’s some info on the program I helped launch in San Diego: http://momentummag.com/blogs/bike-advocacy/san-diego-county-bicycle-coalition-announces-usa-largest-bike-friendly-business-district-initiative.

    Oakville, Ontario, is another city doing making good BFBD progress.


    April Economides
    President, Green Octopus Consulting


More People Get to Fulton Street By Bike Than By Car

When shop owners oppose new plazas or protected bike lanes, even in the city’s most walkable neighborhoods, they often say their businesses rely on street parking to attract customers. Removing even a handful of spaces, they claim, would lead to economic ruin. The reality, of course, is that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers don’t drive to do their shopping, […]

BID Leaders Offer Advice on How to Launch a Bike-Friendly Business District

Hours after Mayor Bloomberg spoke about the dividends businesses can reap from livable streets infrastructure, a group of about 30 business improvement district staffers at the International Downtown Association annual meeting listened to a panel on the specifics of creating bike-friendly business districts. The panel, moderated by Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, […]

Bike Lanes Mean Business

The East Village and Lower East Side have seen new bike infrastructure flourish in the past few years, and now have some of the best city bicycling infrastructure in the country, including what will soon be the nation’s longest protected bike lanes on First and Second Avenues, several on-street bike corrals, and, coming next spring, […]

How to Measure the Economic Effect of Livable Streets

When a street redesign to prioritize walking, biking, or transit is introduced, the headlines are predictable: A handful of business owners scream bloody murder. Anecdotes from grumpy merchants tend to dominate the news coverage, but what’s the real economic impact of projects like Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas, road diets and protected bike lanes? How […]

Informed of Safety Benefits, Most NYC Voters Want Protected Bike Lanes

A poll released by Transportation Alternatives today [PDF] sheds some new light on how NYC voters feel about street redesigns and automated enforcement when the policies are framed in terms of safety benefits. Opinion polls by Marist, Quinnipiac, and the New York Times have consistently shown that New Yorkers support bike lanes by a large margin. […]